Twenty-Nine / Cooperatives, Conflicts, and Human Needs 

This week's article explores the intersection of commons and cooperatives in economics and society. Next, book notes on Amartya Sen's The Argumentative Indian. Also, what are some of the fundamental human needs?


Housekeeping: This newsletter will be the last weekly edition till September 2021. I will take this time to unwind and prepare for graduate school (I will be relocating to the United States for a year and joining MA International and Development Economics at Yale University this Fall)As a bonus, I will still be posting monthly updates till then. 


Weekly Article 

In Search of a Self-Provisioning Society

A self-provisioning society can be an intersection of the commons, as envisioned by Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom, and cooperative economics, a branch of heterodox economic thought. 

To read this week's article, click the link below. 

Read Article


Book Notes 

The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian Culture, History, and Identity by Amartya Sen (2005) 

This book is a collection of essays on the Indian identity, culture, politics, and inequality written by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. It does justice to explaining the heterodoxy and diversity of dialogue and discussion around India's history and contemporary politics. 

"A particular field in which these interdependences are especially strong and blatant concerns inequality between women and men within the household. To understand the process fully, we can start by noting the fact that women and men both have congruent and conflicting interests affecting family life. Because of this extensive areas of congruence of interest, decision-making in the family tends to take the form of the pursuit of cooperation with some agreed solution – usually implicit – of the conflicting aspects. Each of the parties has much to lose if cooperation were to break down, and yet there are various alternative 'cooperative solutions', each of which is better for both the parties than no cooperation at all, but which respectively give different – possibly extremely different – relative gains to the two parties."

This excerpt, in particular, talks about the dynamics of household bargaining power and its effect on gender. John Nash's Battle of Sexes, which in itself is an example of The Bargaining Problem, is one way to look at it. The premise of this game-theoretical model is that the husband wants to go to a football game while his wife would like to enjoy a concert. There are many versions of this game and places where the husband and wife would prefer to go, but there are two outcomes - both spending the day together and be better off or spending the day apart and be worse off. 

Both are better off if they choose to go together. The husband would enjoy the football game, not so much when he goes alone. The same goes for the wife going to the concert. There is conflict, but they cooperate for them to be better off. 

Amartya Sen argues that familial institutions work in a similar order. In a household, the two strategies are chores and benefits. We can infer that women have a lower bargaining power than men as she is not responsible for any productive (which by economic definition translates to paid) work. 

This unequal power dynamic, prevalent more so in developing countries, is due to inherent social and cultural norms; political and economic constraints. It is, thus, imperative to empower women to get educated, work outside the household, and own land and property.


What are we Thinking?

What are some of the fundamental human needs?

There is a notable distinction between human wants and needs. Needs are finite, fundamental, and common to all people. Wants might differ from person to person and usually are non-finite. 

Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean economist, formulated the nine Fundamental Human Needs - subsistence, protection, participation, understanding, affection, idleness, creation, identity, freedom. An economy must grow towards the direction of achieving these levels of needs. From basic human needs - food, shelter, and clothes - for subsistence to freedom to choose, all are the tenets of human survival but are often neglected. 

For instance, estimates suggest that the pandemic has pushed 100 million people back to poverty. It will also impact achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of No Poverty by 2030. However, the collective international community will form newer targets, leaving the deprived far behind. 


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